Tackling budget allocation and expenditure for food and nutrition security (Story of Change)
Poor nutrition continues to plague Rwanda. It is a complex problem that demands a host of solutions from scaling the availability, accessibility and demand for nutritious food to increasing community education on nutrition and crop production. To be effective, all these interventions must be adequately funded.
This is a story about how one civil society organisation (CSO) managed to convince the Government of Rwanda to increase its food and nutrition security (FNS) budget. This remarkable achievement required the CSO to master a niche form of expertise that involves understanding the government’s work processes and the interpretation of budgetary data in order to effectively push a winning advocacy agenda. Thanks to their efforts, and the training and expert guidance they received from IFPRI and SNV through the Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) programme, increased funding will help ease access to nutritious food for many Rwandan citizens.
However, the full impacts of this hard-won success reach even further. In managing, against all the odds, to build the level of trust required for the Rwandan Treasury to share budgetary information and engage with civil society, the CSO forged a valuable new partnership. This inspired a fundamental shift in the government’s attitude towards transparency and led to the mandatory publication of all public expenditure.
Today, the voice of civil society in public spending decisions will help build inclusive resilience as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. In the longer term, as RDO builds and shares its new budgetary expertise, it promises to significantly enhance civil society’s contribution to sustained progress not only on FNS issues, but across all social sectors. In doing so, it will help advance Rwanda’s progress towards the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2014-2015, as many as 38% of children in Rwanda had stunted growth (low height-for-age), while 2% were wasted (low weight-for-height) and 9% were underweight. These conditions not only lead to health problems, they also affect the country’s development trajectory because, as the children become adults, their economic productivity and the health of their offspring can be compromised.
In spite of this, the country’s public expenditure on FNS has remained very low. The absence of a coordinated system across the six government ministries responsible for FNS issues (the so-called ‘social cluster’ ministries) resulted in the lack of an overview of the total FNS budget. Furthermore, spending on specific initiatives within communities was not adequately tracked, making it impossible to map and monitor progress or cost-effectiveness, or to ensure that interventions were well targeted and appropriate.
The public’s ‘right to know’
In 2013, the Rwanda Development Organisation (RDO) decided that a clear, unified picture of the national FNS budget was a crucial starting point to influence allocation and spending in the future. Drawing on IFPRI’s expertise and training, the CSO decided to develop a revolutionary tracking tool that compiled and analysed technical budgetary data for the first time.
However, the success of the tool depended on engaging the Treasury (the Ministry of Economic planning and Finance, or MINECOFIN), which is responsible for coordinating the national budget. Building the level of trust required for it to share critical budgetary information was a significant task, because such public information requests from civil society were not standard practice in Rwanda at that time and budgetary decisions had always been made behind ‘closed doors’.
Against all odds, RDO’s determination to convince the Treasury that the public had a ‘right to know’ about the country’s FNS budget proved effective. Its ability to open doors was supported by the fact that SNV and IFPRI were known for providing reliable evidence and had a good reputation within the government, having worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture in the past.
As a result of RDO’s efforts, in September 2017, MINECOFIN agreed to share information on the FNS budget streams from the social cluster ministries and Rwanda’s 30 districts. This information enabled RDO and IFPRI to navigate the government’s complex budgetary systems and gather detailed data on the country’s FNS budget allocation between 2013 and 2017.
When SNV started its V4CP FNS programme in Rwanda and partnered with RDO in 2016, it used this information as a baseline to develop Rwanda’s first ever Budget Allocation and Expenditure Analysis Tool. Having collected and compiled the data, RDO, IFPRI and the SNV V4CP programme applied their respective expertise to analyse allocation and spending and design well-targeted and strategic advocacy interventions.
The value of transparency
While IFPRI and the SNV V4CP programme were building their evidence-based advocacy case, a momentous change in attitude towards transparency was taking place. RDO’s calls for increased transparency had been heard. By the end of 2018, the government had made it a culture to publish all budgetary data on its website and to include the media and CSOs in discussions on expenditure.
It is within this context of change that the government ministries welcomed the opportunity to participate in a joint workshop organised by RDO and IFPRI at the end of 2018. During the event, RDO demonstrated its strengthened acumen in budgetary expertise and showcased the value of tracking, monitoring and analysing expenditure. Its evidence-based advocacy case convinced the ministries of their expertise and of the value of collaboration and the benefits of involving society in public spending decisions. For the first time, civil society and government worked together in partnership to determine which budget lines were nutrition specific or sensitive, then conducted a ‘weighing exercise’ to assess how budget lines had been allocated to date, and how they should be adjusted in the future.
The workshop was a resounding success; not only did it forge a strong partnership between civil society and government, it also ignited engagement and resulted in the social cluster ministries committing to increase the FNS budget. During his speech, the MINECOFIN representative acknowledged that budget allocation should be a two-way process and made it clear that civil society’s involvement aided the ministry’s work.
“We appreciate partnering with RDO over tracking food and nutrition security budget allocation. RDO has been championing this work. Thanks to this, we’ve seen things keep on improving. We [the ministry] have been ranked low in the openness of public budget information by the evaluators. We are now glad you [the CSOs] took the initiative and approached us. Although we had planned to organize a press conference, we have never thought about CSOs having the right to know. Thank you to RDO for being pro-active," said MINECOFIN representative, Mr Eric Niyitanga.
Subsequently, between 2017/18 and the 2018/19 financial years, the total national FNS budget increased by over 55.8 million Euro (64,044,388,370 Rwandan Francs (FRW)).
Increases in FNS budget allocation by MINECOFIN (in FRW)
Total budget for food security and nutrition national level (both central and district level)
National budget after revision
Following the workshop, MINECOFIN’s respect for RDO was evident. In early 2019, it recommended the World Bank to request RDO to share its experience, as well as the studies and the methodology it used in the FNS budget allocation tracking system. Furthermore, it requested RDO to facilitate a training event to increase other CSO’s public budget literacy.
“We thank RDO for organising CSOs’ capacity building workshop on budget literacy which will enable us to engage more and better in the budget making process,” said Ms M. Michelle Hirwa, a CSO representative.
RDO continues to track spending and to draw on evidence to recommend budget increases. It also organises a range of activities, such as district events to raise community awareness of FNS issues and increase citizens’ involvement in district development processes.
“Citizens’ participation in the district development process is very crucial. We have had planning mistakes when citizens are not consulted or involved in planning and decision making. For example, we have seen a milk collection centre established in a village where there are no cows while farmers were complaining of not having one in villages with many cows. So, we appreciate the organisation of district dialogue on citizens’ participation in district development process which will definitely change the way things used to be done,” said Mr Emmanuel Niyitanga, President of the Farmers’ Cooperative (COAGI) of Gitoki sector, Gatsibo District in Eastern Province.
Today, RDO is considered as a champion in FNS budget tracking. It is a respected advocate for improved budget allocation and continues to be recognised by the World Bank as an important stakeholder and partner in this domain. Parliamentarians, who heard evidence on how COVID-19 has exacerbated FNS in Rwanda, presented by RDO during a high-level meeting in June 2020, referred to it when later arguing for an increase in FNS budget in the parliament. This led to the government increasing next year’s budget for the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) by €30million specifically for food security, an increase of 1.16% compare to last year.
“At RDO, with the network already built with relevant entities, we feel well equipped with all the necessary skills in the subject matter to continue the budget advocacy interventions into the future,” said the Executive Secretary of RDO, Mr. Eugene Rwibasira.
With the support of the SNV V4CP programme and IFPRI, RDO has shifted the landscape of public expenditure in Rwanda. Not only has it significantly strengthened civil society’s capacity to access and interpret budgetary information, it has enhanced its ability to contribute to government transparency and accountability. The resultant, newly forged partnership with government has galvanised civil society’s ability to help build sustained progress in Rwanda, not only on food and nutrition but across other issues and sectors.
Who we are
The Voice for Change Partnership (V4CP) strengthens the capacities of CSOs to foster collaboration among relevant stakeholders, influence agenda-setting and hold the government and private sector accountable for their promises and actions. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 Rwanda Demographic and Health Survey (RDHS) report, 2015.